02 April, 2007

Conservative, Liberal, & Progressive: we're all in the same boat

Over at Gay Species, an excellent and insightful survey of the current American political landscape.

Stephen Heersink provides a concise summary of the three major viewpoints currently dominating American politics along with characterizations of the "minor" divisions within each. He also discusses, albeit briefly, some of the weaknesses and strengths of each. He closes with a reflection on what appears to be the widening gap between the two major, as he seems them, factions:

Given that few people are even speaking the same language in the same way, much less accurately, the Dominionist Progressives and Social Conservatives have been the dominant actors. Among today's elected officials, few can be described as "liberal." Indeed, our national dialogue has become immensely confused and confusing, because of the disparate systems and lack of clarity and ambiguous references.

It is not the Rhetoric of Indeterminacy, but the Rhetoric of Demagoguery that prevails. The fascist, autocrat, the cheater, the peddlers of anodynes, talking heads, and others who are frustrated, confused, and uncertain of any political ideas that find the present vacuum to be propitious for demagoguery, license, and abuse. Some dare call it despair. I call it shameful and dangerous.

Wow. But I can't say that I disagree. In my opinion, we as a nation face today a far greater and more insidious threat than we have ever before faced: ourselves. We are in the very real danger of losing our liberty to fear and seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that a democracy not only provides its citizens the freedom to be politically active, it actually requires that they all be so.

Coincidentally, the actor Richard Dreyfuss was on NPR's Bob Edwards Weekend on Sunday discussing his latest project: the restoration of Civics to American high school curricula. In his discussion, Dreyfuss articulated essentially the same fear as I: that we have lost, or never learned, the knowledge of how to be citizens in a democratic republic. During the 1960-70's, Civics was eliminated from the high school curriculum and the "relevant" subject matter pushed into History and/or Social Studies classes. In hindsight, I think we can say that was a mistake. If we expect our society to function effectively, the people who make it work simply must understand how it works and what they must do in order for it to work properly. If we fail to inculcate this knowledge in our young people, we have only ourselves to blame if they lack it when the time comes for them to lead.

While I would say that it's likely too soon for there to be a causal link between the lack of Civics courses and the current state of political discourse, it's all too obvious that if we want to improve the situation it's going to take a lot of knowledgeable people working to together and without those knowledgeable people, we've got a much smaller chance of ever changing anything.

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